West Coast Trail, British Columbia

Trace the seam between land and sea on Vancouver Island.
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Trace the seam between land and sea on Vancouver Island.

4

Challenges

navigation,
slick trail,
deep mud,
wet weather

Payoffs

Rugged coastal beauty found
nowhere else on the planet

→ As dramatic as Italian opera—and just as hard to get through—this 47-mile, six-day footpath on Vancouver Island’s west coast traces the seam between land’s end and the sea. “It’s the most exquisitely beautiful coastal hiking,” says guidebook author Tim Leadem (Hiking the West Coast Trail; $11; greystonebooks.com), who’s logged nearly 20 completions. “Watching gray whales spouting with 30-foot Tsusiat Falls crashing behind me is the kind of unforgettable, only-on-the-West-Coast moment that keeps bringing me back.”

But witnessing such primordial gorgeousness doesn’t come easy. Capricious tides trap hikers against unscalable cliffs. Hypothermia is a real threat, thanks to drenching mists, abundant rain, and cool temps (averaging just 57°F in the height of summer). Waterlogged bogs, slick ladders, and cable car crossings challenge backpackers’ balance. “I’ve encountered knee-deep mud, and if you slide off a boardwalk, it’ll be hip-deep,” Leadem says. It all adds up to an average of 70 rescues per season—but successful hikers call the journey a life-changer.

DO IT Reserve a permit ($95 CAN; 800-495-5688) starting April 1 for the following year (May 1-Sept. 30), or show up for first-come, first-serve spots (most hikers get a permit within a day or two). New this year, you can also start at Nitinat, the trail’s midpoint. August is easiest, Leadem says, because “a few weeks of good weather have generally dried up the most notorious mud patches.” Bring a synthetic bag (best defense against the ever-present mist) and load your pack for maximum stability. Carry a tide chart, cross beach segments at low water, and don’t risk the coastal shortcut at Adrenaline Creek (it can be deadly). Info pc.gc.ca